Sunday, 25 September 2016

Late season scorecard

We've been neglecting the plot again. Not full-on Fritzl-level neglect you understand, but certainly enough to alert the authorities, assuming that there were any authorities that paid attention to neglected allotments, which, luckily for us, there isn't really. And yet, as we get to the end of the harvest season, we're still reaping the benefits of this gig with plenty of fresh veg coming our way on those one or two times per week when we bother to make the 5 minute walk up to the plot. I think we're late enough in the season to reflect a bit on what has done well and also not so well, don't you? You do? Very well friends, let's do it!

Things that have done well


Nothing to boast about here you might think, any old fool can grow a decent set of spuds, right? Well maybe, but we've had real problems getting a good crop grown some years on our previous plot at Nunsmoor Allotments. There the soil was heavy and full of clay. Here on Benwell Allotments it's light and free-draining. Perhaps this has made all the difference, but whatever it is, we've had quite startling results both this year and last. King Edwards in particular have grown oodles of first-rate tubers with very little in the way of pest damage, and with a quite superior flavour. They make fabulous roasties.

Beetroot and chard
Beetroot are total masochists, you can treat them like shit but they just keep coming back. We left a full tray of seedlings alone for too long and so they had all wilted by the time they got into the ground. A few weeks later and they had settled right in. A couple more and we had rows of the buggers. We've grown a longer variety rather than the more usual round Boltardy and they've done great. I'll be pickling some as soon as we finish eating last year's, and there will be many roasts and risottos to come which will feature their garish hues. We've got two thumping big chard plants left after two bolted irretrievably, and they're producing plenty of tasty foliage. Chard with soy, ginger and garlic is a bit of a revelation.


We didn't grow leeks last year and I rather missed them. There's something very calm about a nice leek; they don't grow too fast, just sort of sitting there in sentinel-like rows. We're harvesting them now and they're completely delicious. When this fresh, they're excellent chopped as finely as your knife skills will permit and used as the onion component in a quick stir fry.

Onions and shallots

All our shallots, and the vast majority of our onions were planted last Autumn. I like to do this as it means you've got at least something going on over winter, and if they do knacker up then you can just put Spring-planted sets in anyhow. The downside is that Autumn planted sets tend not to store nearly as well, a fact we would have done well to remember as we ended up throwing a lot of rotten onions away. Still, that's our fault, not theirs. We grew banana-style shallots - I much prefer these as they aren't too fiddly to peel - and they did well, despite being in the shade of some massive potato plants for quite a while.


We totally cheated with the tomotoes this year, buying all six of our plants from B&Q in a ready-to-plant variety set for about four quid. Varieties included Sungold, Moneymaker, Gardeners Delight and a crinkly one whose name escapes me. They all did pretty well, and despite only getting watered once or twice a week have fed us a steady stream of fruit throughout August and September.

I think I will grow from seed next year - buying plants is a fantastic time saver, but you on't quite get that sense of ownership or achievement when they work out. The flavour of all the varieties has been good rather than superb.

Radishes and turnips

It's hard to go wrong with radishes, but we have had bother with turnips in the past. Not this year! Purple Top Milan turnips are one of my favourite veg, they're just so goddam purty. We've grown them in a slightly shaded mini raised bed and they've bloody loved it in there.

Climbing beans

Two cane wig-wams of bean plants have provided us with more than we could eat over the last month or so. We must try and stagger the planting of these a bit next year. We cooked these with some miso and butter the other night and they were superb. Are you noticing a bit of an Asian theme developing? Me too. There's something about the deep savouriness, or umami if you will, of ingredients like soy, fish sauce and miso that just makes fresh veg sing.


Although we didn't get to eat any of these four plums - they all fell off and got munched by the wildlife - I'm still chalking this up as a victory. We rescued this tree from the old allotment more in hope than expectation as it had never even blossomed in its three or so years there. Well, it did this year and proceeded to produce fruit! Hopefully next year it will really hit it's stride.


Let's not piss about the bush here - these, by any metric, are mahoosive! Kasia is well chuffed, as pumpkins are her department. Funny how you take a liking to growing certain veg and not others. I'm all about the tomatoes and the potatoes, but I'm not fussed for pumpkins. What's that all about?

Other stuff that did good
We got a whole load of gooseberries for the first time and made a delicious fool. Rhubarb is doing well, although we've under-utilised it. I fancy making some rhubarb wine. We've got celeriac in and they're looking good. I will turn at least one of them into a classic remoulade. That's about it.

Things that have not done well

I know! After years of having way too many courgettes on our hands we took the decision only to have three plants this year. One promptly died and the other two have grown stupendous amounts of foliage, but hardly any fruit. It's so ironic that I rang Alanis Morisette up the other day with a suggestion for an additional verse for that song about irony she did years ago. I couldn't get past her publicist. Her loss.

Broad beans
We bought spring sown ready-to-go plants - The Sutton I think - from B&Q, but they didn't do great. We got a tiny crop before they all succumbed to some sort of chocolate-spot type discolouration on the leaves and pods. It'll be back to good old Aquadulce Claudia (surely one of the best named varieties of any vegetable around) next season, and we'll be planting them this Autumn so they get a head start too.

Cavolo Nero
The jury is still very much out on our Cavolo Nero. It did fantastically last year, providing us with iron-laden leaf deep into the dark recesses of winter. This year one plant died shortly after planting out and the rest have just sat there sullenly, not putting on much growth and taking a bit of a hammering from the bastard slugs. Perhaps it will yet rouse itself, like a green phoenix. Hope so, as kale chips are one of the very best things ever.

So, only two, possibly three failures out of everything we've grown; a very tolerable hit-rate. To be honest I've been happy to have a year off the courgettes anyway.

I think next year we need to decrease our spud allowance again, as I've still to dig a load of main croppers up. I'd like to grown some more interesting stuff too, not just the staples. I want to get carrots going and I've been toying with the idea of an asparagus bed, but what else should we grow in our light tilth?

What has been good for you this year, and what hasn't worked out so well. Any surprises? Let me know!

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